A preview of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl featuring the Duke Blue Devils and Indiana Hoosiers.
Duke Blue Devils
This season, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe’s squad has relied heavily on the dual threat ability of quarterback Thomas Sirk, as well as the legs of running back Shaquille Powell. The battle tested Blue Devils have had several close finishes this season, including a quadruple overtime 45-43 victory over Virginia Tech and a controversial 30-27 loss to the Miami Hurricanes that ended with an eight-lateral walk-off touchdown as time expired. Duke’s offensive talent should be enough to earn a victory over Indiana, but whether the Blue Devils show up or lay an egg after a disappointing 7-5 campaign remains to be seen.
The Hoosiers are no stranger to close games either. Indiana blew second half leads in three of their six losses this season, including a double overtime loss to No. 14 Michigan. Hoosiers quarterback Nate Sudfeld is one of the more intriguing NFL Draft prospects in the 2016 class. While Sudfeld doesn’t get the hype that guys like Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook and California passer Jared Goff receive, his strong arm and deceptive speed has surely caught the eyes of more than a few scouts at the next level.
Against Duke, Sudfeld needs to connect on a few deep balls to compensate for Indiana’s atrocious defense. While the Hoosiers have had a surplus of success passing the ball this season, Indiana’s offense also spreads out the opposition to run the ball between the tackles. Hoosiers running back Jordan Howard, who transferred from UAB before the season, has had an effective season in the shadow of former Hoosier and current Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman. Howard, a 6-foot-1 junior, has rushed for more than 1,200 yards and nine scores this season. Indiana’s dynamic offense should make up for its lackluster defense that has given up an average of 37.1 points per game this season.
Players to Watch
Indiana: Wide receivers Simmie Cobbs Jr. and Ricky Jones
Despite Duke’s lack of playmaking pass catchers, Nate Sudfeld and the Hoosiers offense will likely have to score more than 30 points to get their seventh win of the season. If Indiana can establish a consistent running game against the Blue Devils, the Hoosiers have a pair of speedy receivers that will likely see one-on-one coverage throughout the game. Jones and Cobbs Jr. should be tasked with plenty of short crossing routes, wide receiver screens and occasional deep shots to keep Duke’s linebackers and safeties from cheating up to stop the run. The dynamic duo has accounted for more than 1,700 receiving yards with nine scores this season. Indiana offensive coordinator Kevin Johns should utilize the Hoosiers’ speed, forcing Duke’s defense to cover the entire field.
Duke: Quarterback Thomas Sirk
The Blue Devils have endured a roller coaster ride of a season. Despite the ups and downs, Duke’s running game has kept the team afloat this season. Sirk has rushed for more than 600 yards, averaging almost five yards per carry this season. Against Indiana, the junior quarterback’s ability to take off from the pocket on passing downs could prove crucial for the Blue Devils on third down.
Sudfeld and the Hoosiers have an array of talent at their disposal. Indiana should have no problem moving the ball up and down the field as the loss of star safety Jeremy Cash to a wrist injury won’t help the Blue Devils defense — Cash could have locked down at least one of the Hoosiers’ speedy offensive threats. It could be a long day for Cutcliffe’s defense as the Blue Devils will most likely come up short against Indiana’s potent offense.